Open Government 101: Testifying before the grand jury

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So you’re called to testify before the grand jury about something you witnessed  — saw or heard — regarding an investigation before them. While you’re there, they admonish you that you may not reveal anything that took place while you were at the grand jury, which questions were asked or what responses were given, or anything else you learned while you were there.

Does this mean that you can never tell anyone whatever it was you saw or heard that interested the grand jury in your testimony in the first place? No. When the grand jury’s term has ended, you are not prohibited from continuing to talk about what you already knew before you made your grand jury appearance.

The cases are clear on this point, most notably the unanimous United States Supreme Court in the Florida case of Butterworth v. Smith (1993) 494 U.S. 624, at p. 626: “We hold that, insofar as the Florida law prohibits a grand jury witness from disclosing his own testimony after the term of the grand jury has ended, it violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

In Riverside County, the 2013-2014 grand jury term ended two weeks ago on June 30, 2014. The term of the new 2014-2015 grand jury began on July 1.

Further, in California, with regard to a matter before a civil grand jury, the attorney general has indicated that the admonition, which applies to anything “learned during your appearance before the grand jury” lasts only until the grand jury makes public its final report on the matter. (Op. Cal. Atty. Gen. No. 02-1108, June 6, 2003.)

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